Deborah Prentice

A Short Biography:  Deborah Prentice, Harvard Shaker  (1720-1811)

By Roben Campbell, Shaker researcher


Deborah Prentice was born in Cambridge, and sixty-one years old when Mother Ann and the Elders arrived in Harvard.[1] Ten years later in 1791, the Widow Prentice,[2] as she was called, signed the Harvard Charter with sixty others.[3] This document was the first in the Harvard village to include names of both men and women. In the same year she gave a substantial amount of money, 148 pounds, as an offering to the building of the Meeting House. In 1801 she moved to the Square House.[4]

All else related to Widow Prentice, is conjectural and circumstantial, but worth mentioning. The 148 pounds that Widow Prentice donated is worth between eleven and fourteen thousand dollars in today’s currency. [5] Also, another Prentice is mentioned in the record books, by name of Daniel, and was probably her son. Daniel Prentice was one of the supporters of Mother Ann that came from “Cambridge, Woburn, or Charlestown”;[6] And finally, seven of the nine sisters who moved to the Square House in 1801 were elderly, ages 86, 81, 77, 77, 70, 66, and 63.[7] Their move marks 1801 as the date the square house began to be used as an elderly residence in the village.




[1] Harvard Shaker Membership Records, FM 1.1, Shaker Manuscript Collection, Fruitlands Museum, Harvard MA.

[2] May 12, 1791, The Harvard Shaker Record Book, FM 1.7 Fruitlands Museum, Harvard MA, p. 14.

[3] P. 79, The Harvard Shaker Record Book, the Shaker Manuscript Collection at the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester MA.

[4] Ibid., March 23, 1801, p. 89.

[5] My conversion from pounds to dollars was derived from the average ratio of pounds and dollars of which both were given, in the list of financers for the purchase of the Square House in 1782, WRHS.VII:A-2. That ratio was 3.75 dollars for one pound. 148 pounds equals 555 dollars. For the year 1782 the value is $11,000, for the year 1791 it is $14, 230.77.

[6] P. 172, The Thomas Hammond Book, Shaker Manuscript Collection, WRHS,VII.B.22. Cleveland Ohio. The others mentioned were Nathan Kendall, John Robbins, and Aaron Williams. Daniel Prentice was mentioned occasionally in the Harvard Record Books at Fruitlands Museum and the Museum and Library at Old Chatham.

[7] Ibid., Harvard Shaker Record Book, p. 89. The other elderly women noted were Sarah Cooper (age 86), Abigail Babbit (age 77), Elizabeth Phinny (age 77), Rachel Wood (age 66), Phebe Keep (age 63), and Ruth Stearns (age 70). This date was the first in which the Square House was designated as a dwelling place for mostly elderly people.



All rights reserved. © Roben Campbell, 2016.